Why Mexico-born NASA engineer Ali Guarneros Luna took the long road to space – NBC Bay Area

In the great cosmos of his life’s journey, Ali Guarneros Luna discovered early on that the path to the stars is not a forehand – but a winding journey that sometimes bypasses peril and disappointment.

As an engineer at NASA, Luna knows what navigating space involves. His engineering fingerprints are everywhere on many satellites orbiting the earth. And as a project manager for NASA’s Small Satellite program, she has worked on projects aimed at deepening understanding of what lies beyond. But its trajectory was definitely not a direct line.

“Being an immigrant in this country,” said Luna, “having a tough start, being a woman is tough, isn’t it?”

Luna’s passion for space travel began when she was seven years old and lived in her hometown of Mexico City. A door-to-door bookseller sold the family a book and they came across a chapter on one of the space shuttle missions. Therefore, unlike others who gaze at the stars and contemplate the meaning of the universe, Luna wonders about the machines that would make travel possible.

“I was so enthralled at seven – that I was like ‘I want to do this!’,” Luna recalls. “That’s exactly what I want to do and at that age I was like, ‘I’m going to be an aerospace engineer. “”

Joe Rosato Jr.

NASA aerospace engineer Ali Guarneros helps design and manage satellite programs for the space agency. She pursued her dream of space after interrupting her studies for 15 years to raise a family.

It would be a tidy story to say that one literary moment changed the course of her life forever – but rather it was a tragic event on earth that impacted her life the most – the devastating magnitude 8 earthquake. , 0 from 1985 that tore Mexico City apart. .

Luna had friends who had gone to school or work that day and never came home. There were ruins all around and the human toll was staggering.

“This whole aspect has definitely, completely changed my outlook on life,” said Luna, still heartbreaking at the memory today. “Because you can have it all, but if you don’t have the people you love and love, what is life?” ”

The earthquake caused another cataclysmic change as Luna’s single mother quickly moved Luna and her three siblings to San Jose in the Bay Area, where they had to start from scratch. Luna was aiming for higher education but life intervened. She was still in high school when her mother informed her daughter that she would have to go to work to help support the family. Dreams of college have vanished.

Between high school and space – the years flew by – filled with various jobs and four children she was also raising as a single mother. Two of her children had special needs and Luna read that higher education provided more educational means for these parents to help their children. But it would take fifteen years from the time she graduated from high school until Luna finally found her way back to her plans and enrolled at San Jose State University to study Luna. aerospace engineering. She saw it as an act of faith.

“I’m old, I’m not young, I have four children, I have two jobs,” she recalls. “How’s it going to work?” ”

His engineering courses at university led him to an internship at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, which led to a permanent job with the space agency designing satellites. At the time, she was one of the few women working in NASA engineering.

Since then, she has worked on projects, including high-level missions relating to the International Space Station and many other programs, wearing the hats of Security and Systems Engineer and Project Manager. She dreams of one day working on a project that will land the first woman on the moon.

Yet despite her work on top-level NASA missions, Luna cites her most significant accomplishment as mentorship programs that she helped develop by connecting San Jose State students to NASA, thus helping to bring more diversity to the agency.

“What I’m really proud of are the students,” Luna said. “Make them succeed, don’t you? Give them skills and make an impact on the industry.”

In between her duties at NASA, Luna also returned to her own educational roots, lecturing at the San Jose State Aerospace Engineering Program – in fact in the same classroom where her late dreams found their place. .

Joe Rosato Jr.

NASA Aerospace Engineer Ali Guarneros Luna lectures to students at San Jose State University.

She sometimes wonders if the earthquake of her childhood instilled in her a survivor mentality that has led her through a tangled life of disappointment to success, patience and tenacity. It’s a personal story that she loves to share.

“It’s so important for me to flaunt it because, first of all, I’m showing everyone that anyone can do it,” she said. “If I did it, no one can tell me they can’t do it.”

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